Visitors drawn by quality of life could become businesses interested in land, power and telecomm.
When it comes to selling southern Oregon to business, Ron Fox knows he’s got the best possible partner in that effort.
Southern Oregon itself.
“When we make up a list of advantages, we list the same things that folks in the travel and tourism industry are doing to attract someone for three days or a week,” says Fox, executive director for the last 10 years at Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Inc. (SOREDI).
“Our goal is to attract them for a decade, or three.”
Leveraging the region’s package of lifestyle amenities is like icing the cake, after folding in essentials such as affordable land, on or near a major freeway midway between Portland and the Bay Area; a deep labor pool among 300,000 residents, all with less traffic congestion than found in major metro areas; year-round, all-weather air service; and a multi-level education system to help business enhance its workforce skills.
“When somebody’s visiting, we may take the time to drive them to Crater Lake,” Fox says. “Until you stand at the rim of the crater and see that expanse of water, well, pictures just don’t do it justice.”
Fox has learned that visitor attractions also enhance the area’s allure for a business executive and his or her family.
For example, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival draws more than 400,000 visitors a year. The region’s residents have the festival’s plays – and those at several spinoff theater companies, like the Camelot Theatre Company in Talent – right in their backyard.
Open to the sky, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s outdoor Allen Elizabeth Theatre seats 1,200 people. Featured in the photo is the 2012 set and ensemble in Henry V. – photo courtesy of T. Charles Erickson
Sure, San Francisco or Seattle may have more restaurants. But southern Oregon has plenty, and of comparable quality. Like to fish the legendary Rogue River, which flows through both Jackson and Josephine counties? Visitors invest hours in travel time to reach what southern Oregon residents can tuck into a lunch hour.
“We can convince companies that everything they want and need is available here,” Fox says. “And more.”
Such as? For people who love the great outdoors, southern Oregon is surrounded. Just ask Mike Anderson, president of Oregon Swiss Precision in Grants Pass.
When he was looking to buy the assets of his grandfather’s machine business, he found himself looking beyond the Bay Area and its pricey housing costs. His grandparents were preparing to move to southern Oregon, and shared travel brochures.
“We came up a couple of times and looked,” he recalls. “You have access to nature, and you’re not driving an hour to camp. There’s river rafting, hunting, fishing, snowboarding – all the activities you want your kids to have.”
Mount Ashland Trail – photo courtesy of Justin Olsen
The kids got what Dad wanted. Three of the four still live in southern Oregon. Sometimes Fox and the team at SOREDI are the first point of contact for people looking at relocation. On other occasions, those people come to his attention after first contacting local visitor organizations.
“We’re directly across the hallway from Carolyn Hill, executive director for Travel Southern Oregon,” Fox says. “We deliberately worked to get our office in the same space for that reason.”
He applauds the collaboration.
“There’s been an artificial separation between tourism and the manufacturing component of economic development,” Fox says. “The things that bring tourists are the same things that a business needs to attract talent.”
With half the rain of many other cities in the region, and a gentle climate that invites golfers and anglers and hikers to get outdoors all year long, SOREDI territory is a relocation promoter’s dream. Like Paige Webster of Webster Global Site Selectors in Phoenix, Ariz. Webster was among a small group of site selectors that SOREDI invited to the area on a “familiarization tour” three years ago.
They got the Powerpoint about business essentials, and then they hit the road. Stops included Harry & David, the legendary fruit packer, and Playcraft Systems, a Grants Pass maker of playground equipment. They also stopped at the Shakespeare Festival.
“Our business is all about relationships,” Webster says. “Quality of life is a big factor. We analyze by numbers, but we can’t put numbers on quality of life.”
Webster recalls a chat with a local legislator on his flight home after visiting southern Oregon. He stressed the need for a conference center “to bring in more people and boost tourism.” Last year, he learned that the Oregon Legislature has funded a feasibility study for such a center.
Fox, who retires this spring after 10 years helping business find a new home in southern Oregon, says site selectors like Webster have provided SOREDI with valuable feedback.
“They have all helped us to better define our advantages,” he says, “including how our region’s tourism attributes can be used to encourage new businesses to relocate.”